Tears fell from my eyes onto my dirt smeared legs as I knelt in the front yard of my house. There was hardly any grass. Just rocks and dirt, mainly. But my knees were numb to the pain.
My dreams were falling apart. The next stop—moving back in with my parents—was imminent. Heaviness filled my lungs and my chest. I was barely able to catch my breath. This was my own armageddon. It was in 2008 that my life first exploded.
Broken Dreams in La La Land
If you’re an aspiring actor, living in Los Angeles comes with a high cost. Working any jobs that came my way and eating Hot Pockets for my meals became the norm. Yet, none of that mattered when I stood on set in some of LA’s largest production studios. Numb3rs, He’s Just Not That Into You, Medium, Entourage, Boston Legal, and many other films and shows were honored to have me on screen.
Sure, maybe it was just in the back near the second column on the left in a green shirt drinking a latte while talking with a blonde who just moved to LA from Ohio, but I was there. The empty wallet and barren refrigerator were worth those moments in those hallowed sanctuaries. The big-wigs simply didn’t know my talent yet.
Things continued to progress in my dreams, but at a slower pace than I anticipated. Then one day, I was given the opportunity to arrest a guy in a scene with Rob Morrow on the show Numb3rs. Some guy didn’t show up for the gig and they asked me to fill in! Certainly, great things were on the horizon.
Then, the writers’ strike of 2007 shredded my plans into itty-bitty pieces. I scrambled for minimum-wage jobs while I sorted out the next steps and, in case you’re unaware, you can’t really live in Los Angeles on a minimum-wage budget. Next steps never arrived, at least not the ones I desired. That’s when, in August of 2008, I found myself on my knees in my yard, knowing that my LA dreams had flopped harder than The Lone Ranger.
The Human Side of Life
Maybe I was a dreamer and a risk taker of sorts—someone who took pride in pursuing a life that was more than merely existing. And yet, there was a raging storm within me that I kept hidden in the darkest crevices of my heart.
I was mentally and emotionally broken.
For much of my life I had suffered with a severe anxiety disorder, yet it was often disguised in the shroud of zealous religiosity and concern for the well-being of others. When I was twenty-three, the disorder couldn’t be held at bay any longer.
Fear became a constant companion in the lonely land of Los Angeles. The prison of my own making had followed me from Virginia to California. Turns out we can’t always run away from the brokenness we face in this life.
Thanks to my mother, I began seeking help through meeting with a psychologist who specialized in my particular brand of anxiety: OCD. We’re not talking about the kind of OCD we see in movies where someone has to put all their clothes in a certain order in the closet—I wish that was my problem. Instead, my anxiety revolved around non-existent tragedies that I convinced myself must be avoided at all costs—even at the cost of my own mental health.
Driving became a torture. Spiritual curiosity became a hell. Every action was scrutinized to ensure that no harm would come to anyone, often neglecting to include myself in that club.
And it was in that yard of dirt and rocks, as I knelt there and wondered where God was in my mess, that I discovered my failed dreams broke my heart while my anxiety disorder broke my mind. It was a script that no screenwriter in the entire academy would touch with a ten-foot pole.
As an actor, it’s easy to to think of life in terms of stories, scripts, and production. And maybe it’s because the human heart is wired for stories, creativity, and dreams. And if so, then I have a hunch that God is writing a grand script that involves all of us, even the failed dreamers like me. I have a hunch that he’s telling a story of great significance. It’s also one that we are not center stage in every scene.
The story of redemption throughout the scriptures reads as one that was beautifully crafted and designed by the greatest Artist of all time. If God could write a great script for all humanity, then certainly he could write one for me.
And it was at this realization that my story began to take a drastic turn. It was when I left Los Angeles and returned to my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Now, the first question that I asked myself was What does a failed twenty-five-year-old actor do when he returns home to live with his parents? Get a job at Starbucks, of course!
The next few years involved coffee, professional counseling, acting classes (to keep the dream alive, of course), and massive bitterness at God—more bitter than some of the drinks at Starbucks.
Over the course of the following years, many beautiful things started to bloom. The story was being re-written into something strangely yet eternally redemptive. I met my wife while serving her a chai latte. A fantastic psychologist helped me along the journey of healing in my anxiety disorder. Friends would come into my life who would carry me when I was weak and celebrate my strengths. They invited me into their story as well. God was up to something.
Today, I’m 33, I’m married, my heart still swims with dreams, and my anxiety disorder is but a remnant of what was once a hurricane. And the one thing that has carried me through the hurricane and the failed acting and the rocky front lawn was hope. Hope that things are getting better—even though I’m still far from the person I want to be.
Hope is not just a bubblegum word with no substance. Hope is an invitation into a better future. Hope reminds us that our disorders do not define us. Hope reminds us that we can always dream again, even when a dream dies. Hope is the echo of a future that calls us onward into what’s next.
If I’ve learned anything in my journey thus far, I guess it would be that better days are ahead, life is always worth living, and our stories matter more than we’ll ever know.
I still find myself on my knees asking for help. But it’s no longer in that dirt and rock yard.
Cover image by Caleb George.